The third secret of happier parenting: Seize small moments

photo-319Last fall I wrote a post about figuring out which mornings I’d wait for the bus with my 7-year-old. I work at home, so I could do it. The problem is that the time (roughly 8:30-8:40 a.m.) was right in the middle of what is often a productive hour for me. So I did it on the two days per week we didn’t have childcare in the mornings (because everyone was at school) and didn’t on the other days.

Well, fast-forward to spring. We have childcare every morning, what with having a baby who doesn’t go to school. But I’m also out on the driveway every morning I’m home from 8:30-8:40. What happened?

I stumbled into another secret of happier parenting, the third in this blog series: seize small moments. They do a lot to make life more enjoyable if you’ve got a full plate.

This new morning routine wasn’t a conscious choice. At first, it was a necessity. Someone needed to hold the baby almost all the time, and keep zealous 3-year-olds from smothering the baby with love. The baby couldn’t go wait outside in 15 degree weather. So the morning routine required two adults: one to wait for the bus, one to be inside with the other kids. I spend a lot of time with the baby; I volunteered for outdoor duty. There wasn’t much of an opportunity cost because I was often feeding the baby around 8 a.m. and so I rarely start real work (beyond a few emails/blog comments) before 9 a.m. anyway these days.

But over the past 14 weeks I’ve started really liking this time. One-on-one time is often the most pleasant part of parenting (perhaps that should be Secret #4). Sometimes the bus waiting time is the only solo conversation I have with my biggest kid all day. We’ve practiced times tables, discussed his fixation on world records (particularly the world’s oldest people — did you know two in a row died recently? One in Japan, one in the U.S.), and philosophical matters. Out of the blue the other day: “Mommy, did you know God made cancer?” That’s a tough one to unpack.

When I was collecting time logs for I Know How She Does It, I’d see this philosophy at work. One woman with a tough morning routine had to be in the car with her kids at 7:10. She got them ready every morning by 7. Then they’d play for 10 minutes. It would have been easy to spend those 10 minutes mindlessly, looking at the clock, checking email, or tidying. Instead, she used those minutes to send herself and her sons off into the world with a bit of levity rather than stress.

If you’ve got small kids and a demanding job (or even if you don’t have a demanding job), there will be lots of moments that are just Not Fun. There are tantrums and tight deadlines. These are the sorts of things that lead us to stormy conclusions about whether it’s possible to have it all. But even in the worst stretches, there are often some spaces for levity if we choose. A boring drive gets perked up with a swing through the car wash. We all go outside at night and shine our flashlights on the frogs screeching at the moon. Even just pausing to realize “hey, all is good right now,” goes a long way, even if “right now” lasts 5 minutes before the next biting incident.

I probably won’t do the bus routine forever, but for the last few months of second grade, it’s been fine.

Have you had any good small moments recently?

Photo: A good small thing, spotted while waiting for the bus this morning.

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